The capital of Connecticut, Hartford is home to beautiful parks, a choice of unique museums, attractions, wedding venues, performing arts and restaurants. See the stunning Connecticut State Capitol, visit the Wadsworth Atheneum, one of the oldest art museums in the U.S., and stroll through the Rose Garden in Elizabeth Park on your weekend getaway or day trip.
Best things to do in Hartford, CT with kids include the Connecticut Science Center, the Mark Twain House & Museum and the carousel in Bushnell Park. Certain attractions may be temporarily closed or require advance reservations. Some restaurants are currently offering pickup only. Hours/availability may have changed.
1. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art
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Located on Main Street, the Wadsworth Atheneum is an art museum founded in 1842 and opened in 1844, making it one of the oldest art museums in the U.S. It has an extensive collection of American Impressionist paintings, works by contemporary artists, French Impressionist paintings, landscapes by members of the Hudson River School, modernist art works, and more. The museum also features American decorative arts and furniture and is one of the best things to do in Hartford, Connecticut.
With 196,000 square feet, the Wadsworth Atheneum is the largest art museum in Connecticut and is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. It also offers many educational programs and hosts special events like film screenings.
600 Main Street, Hartford, Connecticut, 860-278-2670
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Elizabeth Park is a city park located on Asylum Avenue. Covering an area of 102 acres, the site was owned by Charles M. Pond, who gave the land to the City of Hartford in 1894 and asked them to name the park after his wife, Elizabeth Pond.
One of the most famous parts of the park is the Rose Garden. It is the oldest municipal rose garden in the U.S. and is made up of 15,000 rose bushes representing 800 varieties. If you are wondering what to do in Hartford CT with kids, this is a great place to visit. In addition to the rose garden, the park contains greenhouses, lawns, pathways, a pond, and tennis courts.
1561 Asylum Avenue, West Hartford, 860-231-9443
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3.Connecticut State Capitol
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The Connecticut State Capitol is the home of the Connecticut State Senate, the House of Representatives, the Connecticut General Assembly, and the office of the Governor of the State of Connecticut. The current capitol, constructed with marble and granite and opened in 1871, was designed in the Eastlake Movement style and has been designated as a U.S. National Historic Landmark.
On the main floor there are collections of historic artifacts, many of which are related to the Civil War. There are self-guided tours as well as free one-hour guided tours, which are conducted from Monday to Friday. School tours as well as private group tours are also available.
210 Capitol Avenue, Hartford, Connecticut, 860-240-0222
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4. Connecticut Science Center
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Located on Columbus Boulevard along the Connecticut River in Hartford, the Connecticut Science Center is a nine-story science museum and theater that opened in 2009. The center contains 40,000 square feet of interactive exhibits in its 154,000 square foot facility.
The Connecticut Science Center is one of the top Hartford attractions for families.
The galleries include audio, tactile, and visual exhibits, among others. The Exploring Space gallery allows visitors to see a moon rock and moon craters, or go on a Venture to a Black Hole, while the River of Life teaches guests about the importance of the Connecticut River. The Picture of Health helps to show the differences between good and bad health habits. Finally, the Sight and Sound Experience is a combination of art, music, and science.
250 Columbus Boulevard, Hartford, Connecticut, 860-724-3623
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5.The Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford, Connecticut
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Located on Farmington Avenue, the Mark Twain House & Museum is where Samuel Longhorne Clemens lived and worked between 1874 and 1891. Before living in this house, Clemens, known as Mark Twain, lived in several places including Hannibal, Missouri. However, it was in this house in Hartford where he wrote his most famous books, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, among other well-known works.
Built in the Victorian Gothic style between 1873 and 1874, the house has 19 rooms. Opened in 2003, the museum features permanent and rotating exhibits that give visitors the chance to learn more about the author and his life.
351 Farmington Avenue, Hartford, Connecticut, 860-247-0998
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The oldest publicly funded park in the U.S., Bushnell Park was envisioned by Reverend Horace Bushnell in the mid-19th century in order to give the people of Hartford a green open space, a concept that no other city in the U.S. had yet completed. With over 50 acres, the park features paths and groups of trees, a pond, a performance pavilion, a carousel, and the Corning Fountain.
Memorials include the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch, which is dedicated to those who fought during the American Civil War, as well as the Horace Wells Monument. Listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, the park hosts concerts, festivals, and other events.
More day trips: 10 Best Things to Do in Bridgeport, CT.
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7.The Bushnell Performing Arts Center
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The Bushnell Performing Arts Center, located on Capitol Avenue, is a performing arts venue formerly known as the Bushnell Memorial Hall. Named after Horace Bushnell, a highly respected 19th century intellectual, and envisioned by his daughter Dotha Bushnell Hillyer, the center was constructed between 1929 and 1930 during the Great Depression as a memorial to her father.
The center consists of several theaters, including the original Mortensen Hall and the Maxwell M. and Ruth R. Belding Theater. In addition to presenting performances including those by the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, the center has educational programs and community outreach programs such as Passport to the Arts and iQuilt. If you are looking for romantic date night ideas in Hartford CT, watch a performance at the Bushnell Performing Arts Center.
166 Capitol Avenue, Hartford, Connecticut, 860-987-6000
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8.Mortensen Riverfront Plaza
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Mortensen Riverfront Plaza is a popular park in downtown Hartford and a centerpiece of the Riverfront park system. A large stage near the river hosts a range of performances, and grass-covered terraces offer seating for more than 2,500 people.
The plaza stairs are a great space for vigorous exercise or for relaxing and watching the boats on the river. They also serve as front-row seats during the annual dragon boat festival. From the Plaza, you can take one of the many walking trails along the river, get on a boat tour of the city, or walk across the Founders Bridge to East Hartford.
50 Columbus Boulevard 1st Floor, Hartford, Connecticut, 860-713-3131
9. Museum of Connecticut History
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The Museum of Connecticut History is located in the meticulously restored and historic 1910 building that houses the State Library and Supreme Court. Its focus is on the state’s governmental, industrial, and military history, which it showcases through a range of permanent and temporary exhibits. The exhibits follow the State’s growth and development and the part it played in the development of the United States.
The visit to the museum starts at Memorial Hall with a display of the portraits of former Connecticut Governors. The Hall also contains display boxes with important historical documents such as the State's original Royal Charter from 1662. Other important collections are the Connecticut Collection, which contains flags, portraits, weapons, uniforms, and many other historic objects, The Colt Firearms Collection, Mitchelson Coin Collection, and many others. Admission is free.
231 Capitol Avenue, Hartford, Connecticut, 860-757-6535
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10.Connecticut Historical Society
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Visiting the Connecticut Historical Society museum, library, and the Edgar F. Waterman Research Center is a great way to learn more about Connecticut and its history, people, and culture.
The Society, established in 1825, is located in a lovely 1928 Colonial Revival building that was formerly a luxury home. It now contains over 4 million diverse items in the areas of textiles, furniture, clothing, manuscripts, diaries, prints, photos, tavern signs, children’s books, and various tools.
There are several permanent exhibitions on display, and the most important one is a comprehensive overview of more than 400 years of the history of Connecticut. The exhibition displays over 500 historic images, objects, and documents that range from the times of the original inhabitants, the Quinnetukut, to contemporary times.
One Elizabeth Street, Hartford, Connecticut, 860-236-5621
11.TheaterWorks, Hartford, CT
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TheaterWorks is a professional theater group located at the Bushnell Towers & Plaza on Pearl Street in downtown Hartford. Founded in 1985, the company presents over 200 performances each season and has produced more than 130 plays, most of which are contemporary dramas. The theater company presents its performances in the large brick historic 1927 Art Deco Building with Moorish Revival details, a building that TheaterWorks bought in 1994.
The building, now called City Arts on Pearl, is also home to galleries, office spaces, rehearsal rooms, and storage spaces. The intimate theater seats 195 people and is located in the basement of the building.
Bushnell Towers & Plaza, 233 Pearl Street, Hartford, Connecticut, 860-527-7838
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Founded 52 years ago, the Hartford Stage is a well-known resident theater located on Church Street in Hartford. The theater presents revivals of classic plays and musicals as well as both American and international premiers of new and innovative works for stage. Educational outreach programs include after school programs, theater classes for adults as well as for children, theater residencies, student matinee performances, and much more.
The theater also hosts a variety of events such as AfterWords Discussion and Sunday Afternoon Discussion where visitors can join cast members after a performance. There are also special performances for visitors who are vision impaired or hearing impaired.
50 Church Street, Hartford, Connecticut, Phone: 860-527-5151
13.On20, Hartford, Connecticut
On20 is an elegant, upscale restaurant that provides you with a spectacular view of the river below the 20th floor of One State Street. Perfect for serious business lunches or romantic candle-lit dinners, the restaurant features subtle décor that enhaces the spectacular food their young French-trained Executive Chef Jeffery Lizotte creates using locally sourced ingredients he gets daily from his network of farmers and food producers.
The menu is innovative and colorful and at times brave – his chowder comes with creamy fennel, panchetta crumble, orange, and dill oil. In Connecticut, it takes youth to shake the traditions to this extent. Lunch Prix Fixe is an affordable option for business lunches and a way to taste a few of the chef’s specials.
400 Columbus Blvd, "One State Street", Hartford, CT, Phone: 860-722-5161
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14.Old State House
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Completed in 1796, the Old State House is the first public building designed by Charles Bulfinch, and it has always served as a public building in one form or another. Today, it is managed by an office of the Connecticut General Assembly. The building is a mix of architectural styles, from the Federal exterior to the Victorian Representative's chamber and Colonial Revival courtroom.
This National Historic Landmark has a range of exhibits such as the Joseph Steward Museum of Curiosities as well as a great number of historic rooms that showcase the history of Connecticut. There are organized tours for those who would like to learn more. The House also offers space to the farmers’ market on the plaza just outside the building.
800 Main Street, Hartford, CT, Phone: 860-522-6766
15.Bear's Smokehouse, Hartford, Connecticut
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Vegetarians, beware: Bear’s Smokehouse is an unapologetic carnivores’ heaven. The meat is delicately smoked in hickory and other fragrant woods, rubbed to perfection, and barbecued until it is charred on the outside and pink on the inside and falls off the bone.
Chef Jamie “The Bear” McDonald has perfected his own sauces and rubs, and he chooses everything from the wood to the meat cuts very carefully. You can find all kinds of meat on the menu, from briskets, beef, pork, chicken, turkey, and sausages, along with a whole range of sides. The ambiance fits the feast – the restaurant is located in a converted garage and has a counter service and a sink next to the exit so you can wash the sauce off your face and hands.
25 Front St, Hartford, CT 06103, Phone: 860-724-3100
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© Carbone's Ristorante
Carbone’s Ristorante is a refined establishment where you might go to celebrate an important achievement or to impress your in-laws. The white tablecloths, elegant Old World décor, and impeccable service are just an introduction to Carbone’s Ristorante, where they serve fabulous authentic Italian food that has been brought to the 21st century.
Owned and operated by the third generation of the Carbone family, this venerable 75-year-old eatery is popular with the Mayor and even a few celebrities. They, like you, come for the food and the royal treatment Carbone’s offers to every customer. Many dishes are prepared at your table, from fresh salads to flaming desserts. Eating at Carbone’s is truly a remarkable experience.
588 Franklin Avenue, Hartford, CT, Phone: 860-296-9646
17.Harriet Beecher Stowe Center
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Located on Forest Street, the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center is a historic museum as well as a U.S. National Landmark. Author of the 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe lived in this house from 1873 until her death in 1896. The 5,000 square foot two-story brick house was built in the cottage style, painted gray, and decorated with dormers and gables. It sits adjacent to the Mark Twain House.
The center contains original objects from the family as well as several documents and letters. The center also has a research library and a carriage house that serves as the Visitor Center. Listed on the U.S. National Register of History Places, the center is open every day.
77 Forest Street, Hartford, CT, Phone: 860-522-9258
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18.Polish National Home, Hartford, Connecticut
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You don’t have to be a Pole to enjoy a visit to the Polish National Home. Located in a lovely Art Deco building, this 85-year-old social club for the Polish-American community has a great restaurant where those who know and love Polish food can indulge in some fresh Golabki, stuffed cabbage rolls, or Pierogis, dumplings stuffed with potato, cabbage, and cheese.
Those who are curious about Polish food can come check it out and meet some very friendly and warm people. The building also has a ballroom, dining room, bar, and several offices. For only $25 per year, you can become a member of the club, which gives you the opportunity to rent any of the facilities, enjoy discounts at the restaurant, and participate in special events and celebrations during the many very cheerful Polish festivals and holidays.
60 Charter Oak Avenue, Pulaski Plaza, Hartford, CT, Phone: 860-247-1784
Those who have gotten addicted to the warm, gooey, toasted sandwiches from Toasted’s shiny red truck can now get them from their store on Asylum Street. The store continues their “sandwich revolution” – they give their customers a better way of eating sandwiches. Toasted has an established menu, but you can also design your own sandwich combination, choosing from three types of bread, five cheeses, 12 meats, 19 sauces, and five veggies.
Then they press the sandwich and toast it until the cheese melts. The bread comes out nicely crunchy, and everything is just delicious. The bread is baked fresh every day, and they slice all meats, cheeses, and veggies while you are waiting. Be warned: once you try these wonderful warm concoctions, you will never want to eat a plain cold sandwich again.
188 Asylum St., Hartford, CT, Phone: 1-855-55-TOAST (86278)
20. Trumbull Kitchen, Hartford, CT
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Trumbull Kitchen, with its modern, cool industrial touches, is a luxurious and upscale restaurant with walls covered in leather and soft custom-made lighting. It is a great place for a business lunch or an intimate dinner for two. Executive Chef Chris Torla plays with fresh farm-to-table ingredients he gets from local farms and food producers to create unique cosmopolitan comfort food that has no ethnic boundaries.
The mix of flavors in both his tapas and large plates is outstanding, and the presentation is almost Zen-like. Trumbull Kitchen also has constantly changing craft beers on tap and an extensive wine list.
150 Trumbull Street, Hartford, CT, Phone: 860-493-7412
21.Charter Oak Landing
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People usually come to the Charter Oak Landing Park to take a boat tour of the river or to launch their own boat for a trip along the banks. However, there is so much more to this lovely park than the dock. It is great spot for a bit of fishing, a picnic lunch with a loved one, playing with your dog, or taking a jog or a leisurely walk.
There is a lovely kids’ playground for the little ones, a pretty little pavilion for a bit of shade, and many benches along the park trails where you can sit, relax, feed the birds, or just watch the river waters go slowly on their way.
25 Best Things to Do in Hartford, Connecticut
- Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Photo: Courtesy of Phil Cardamone - Fotolia.com
- Elizabeth Park, Photo: Courtesy of baphotte - Fotolia.com
- Connecticut State Capitol, Photo: Courtesy of sframe - Fotolia.com
- Connecticut Science Center, Photo: Courtesy of Laura Stone - Fotolia.com
- The Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford, Connecticut, Photo: Courtesy of f11photo - Fotolia.com
- Bushnell Park, Photo: Courtesy of f11photo - Fotolia.com
- The Bushnell Performing Arts Center, Photo: Courtesy of alejandroav - Fotolia.com
- Mortensen Riverfront Plaza, Photo: Courtesy of Laura Stone - Fotolia.com
- Museum of Connecticut History, Photo: Courtesy of gnagel - Fotolia.com
- Connecticut Historical Society, Photo: Connecticut Historical Society
- TheaterWorks, Hartford, CT, Photo: Courtesy of maxcam - Fotolia.com
- Hartford Stage, Photo: Courtesy of verve - Fotolia.com
- On20, Hartford, Connecticut, Photo: On20
- Old State House, Photo: Courtesy of hstiver - Fotolia.com
- Bear's Smokehouse, Hartford, Connecticut, Photo: Bear's Smokehouse
- Carbone's Ristorante, Photo: Carbone's Ristorante
- Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Photo: Courtesy of klublu - Fotolia.com
- Polish National Home, Hartford, Connecticut, Photo: Polish National Home
- Toasted, Photo: Toasted
- Trumbull Kitchen, Hartford, CT, Photo: Trumbull Kitchen
- Charter Oak Landing, Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com
Attraction Spotlight: Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art
Founded in 1842 by Daniel Wadsworth, one of the first major art patrons in America, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford opened just two years later with only seventy-nine paintings and three sculptures. Today its entire collection exceeds 50,000 pieces – the work of active acquisitions by curators, patrons, and directors, who uphold Wadsworth’s commitment to collecting and supporting the work of living artists. Interestingly, Wadsworth’s original plan was to create a fine arts gallery, but he was persuaded at the time instead to establish an atheneum, a nineteenth-century term for a particular type of cultural institution. The Atheneum is America’s oldest continuously-operating public art museum.
Today, the museum’s collections cover 5,000 years. Within the collections are featured the Morgan collection of Greek and Roman antiquities and European decorative arts; world-class surrealist and baroque paintings; an inspired host of Hudson River School landscapes; American and European Impressionist paintings; masterpieces of the modernists, plus so much more.
Five connected buildings comprise The Wadsworth Atheneum. The first was the Gothic Revival Wadsworth building of 1844, designed by the eminent architects Alexander Jackson Davis and Ithiel Town. This building once held the art gallery, Natural History Society, the Connecticut Historical Society, and the Young Men’s Institute, which later became the Hartford Public Library. The Watkinson Library of Reference was added to the original building in the 1860s.
The Tudor Revival Colt Memorial of 1910 and the Renaissance Revival Morgan Memorial of 1910-15, designed by Benjamin Wistar Morris, provided new space for a collection that was expanding.
The Avery Memorial opened in 1934 and was the first American museum building with a modern international style interior. By 1964, the institutions not affiliated with the art museum had moved to other Hartford locations.
When the Goodwin building, designed in a late modernist style, opened to the public in 1969, the entire facility was devoted to the fine arts for the first time, Daniel Wadsworth’s original intention.
The art gallery at the museum developed methodically through its early days, with a collection that consisted largely of history paintings, and American landscapes, and portraits, by artists such as Thomas Cole, John Trumbull, and Frederic Church, plus some Victorian sculpture.
Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt, in 1905, bequeathed to the museum over 1,000 objects, such as Hudson River School paintings, decorative works, and the firearms collection of her late husband Samuel Colt, plus money for the construction of the Colt Memorial.
J. Pierpont Morgan, the famous Hartford native, offered to build the Morgan Memorial in 1907, and 10 years later, JP Morgan Jr. gave the museum his father’s inestimable collection – which included Meissen and Sevres porcelains, ancient bronzes, Renaissance majolica, 17th century ivories and silver gilt objects. Morgan purchased the esteemed Wallace Nutting collection of American “Pilgrim Century” furniture and decorative arts.
Thee bequest of Frank C. Sumner, in 1927, established the Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection fund, which enriches the museum’s holdings to this day by enabling it to purchase supremely beautiful paintings.
The museum was the first American museum to acquire works by Dali, Caravaggio, Mondrian, Miro, Balthus, Harnett and Cornell.
1n 1927, the so-called modern history of the museum commenced as A. Everett “Chick” Austin, Jr., was appointed director. He was at the helm for 17 years, and during that time, founded the museum’s European paintings collection, concentrating on the baroque field, and acquiring leading modernist masterpieces. Austin introduced emerging art forms – photography, music, dance, theater and film – that were new to museums at the time. His former house, the Austin House, is the largest object in the museum’s collection and a National Historic Landmark.
The European Art collection contains about 900 paintings, 500 sculptures, and 3,500 works on paper, ranging from the medieval to the modern period.
The Atheneum’s European collection is especially vital in Italian Baroque painting from the likes of Bernardo Strozzi, Caravaggio, and Orazio Gentileschi. Surrealist art is demonstrated by Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Joan Miró, and René Magritte. There are some exceptional works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, Joseph Wright and William Holman Hunt.
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European Decorative Arts
The European Decorative Arts collection holds some 7,000 objects. More than 1,300 of these are from J. Pierpont Morgan, including ancient glass and bronzes, and Venetian and façon de venise glass.
The museum has an extensive ceramic collection, namely 18th and 19th century English pottery and porcelain, 19th century Sèvres porcelain, Berlin and Meissen Art Nouveau porcelain, and pre-Columbian pottery, Chinese export and domestic porcelain.
Costume and Textiles
The museum’s Costume and Textiles collection has about 2,500 textile objects and 5,000 costumes and accessories – from Coptic to Contemporary, in size from thimbles to tapestries, and from each continent. One may see Native American baskets, African American story quilts, and contemporary fiber art.
Some holdings are unique, like paper gowns created by contemporary artists for the museum’s Paper Balls of 1936 and 1966. The museum has a vital Lifar collection of Ballets Russes drawings and paintings as well as costumes from the Ballets Russes. Cheney Brothers textiles are also on view.
In the American Art collection, there are about 1,000 paintings, 400 sculptures, and 4,000 works on paper. One of the highlights is the museum’s Hudson River School paintings. Collection masterpieces include 18th century portraits by John Singleton Copley and Ralph Early, still lives from the 19th by the Peale family, with important contributions by Georgia O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, and Andrew Wyeth.
Horatio Greenough, Gaston Lachaise, Harriet Hosmer, Elie Nadelman, Paul Manship, and Alexander Calder, as well as other noted artists, constitute the museum’s American sculpture collection.
This collection represents the history of material culture in America and New England. Noted pieces include chests made in the 17th century to modern works by Frank Lloyd Wright and Marcel Breuer. Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt donated Colt Firearms in 1905.
The museum celebrates Connecticut craftsmen like Samuel Loomis, who made Colchester/Norwich style furniture, and Eliphalet Chapin, perhaps the state’s most famous cabinetmaker of colonial times. The designs of George Nakashima are also in this collection.
Since its opening in 1844, the museum has hosted artists of its own time – from Frederic Church and Thomas Cole to Salvador Dalí, Andy Warhol, Piet Mondrian, and Sol LeWitt.
The museum’s Contemporary art collection features works created from 1945 to the present with strong examples of Color Field painting, Abstract Expressionism, Conceptual art, Pop art, and movements in sculpture, painting, photography, sculpture, and video.
The museum has supplemented its acquisitions from its MATRIX program—created in 1975—to include work by many past MATRIX artists, namely Duane Hanson, Robert Mapplethorpe, Christian Jankowski, Ellsworth Kelly, Glenn Ligon, Lorna Simpson, Lee Lozano, William Wegman, and Cindy Sherman.
The Amistad Center
The Amistad Center for Art & Culture was founded in 1987 and is a not-for-profit cultural arts organization that has collected 7,000 pieces that include art, artifacts, and popular culture objects that document African American heritage.
While The Amistad Center is located at the Atheneum, it is an independently incorporated 501 (c) 3 organization. Its goal is to celebrate and interpret African American humanities and arts and to educate the public about their importance and influence in American life.
The Museum Café is even open to non-visitors. In fact, if you want to dine in the café, but don’t have time to experience the galleries, just contact the staff at the Information Desk to receive complimentary admission to the café. It’s ideal for those who want a new lunch hangout downtown or crave a change from bringing lunch from home.
The Museum Café is open for lunch Wednesday through Sunday. Visitors will find soups, savory sandwiches, freshly prepared appetizers, healthy salads, and mouth-watering flat breads.
After your day at the museum, why not stop into the award-winning Museum Shop? Here, visitors will find handmade works by local artisans, books, items for the home and office, children’s gifts, handcrafted jewelry, paper products, plus other merchandise.
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600 Main Street Hartford CT, 06103, Phone: 860-278-2670
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